Since April, Col. Christopher Short has commanded the 366th Fighter Wing, serving as the top officer at Mountain Home Air Force Base. He spoke Dec. 18 in Boise as part of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerces CEO Speaker Series. His comments here are condensed from a transcript prepared by chamber PR Director Caroline Merritt.
A TELLING ARTICLE IN TIME MAGAZINE
This is a pretty neat opportunity for me. Usually when I get 140 people or so to talk to, its because Ive ordered them to be there. And theyre not there eating a $40 dinner. So, little bit of pressure.
When I was a vice commander at Moody [Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga.], one of the things we talked about was the gap between civilian and the military. There was a big article that came out in Time magazine. Currently less than half of 1 percent of our nation serves in the active military. A lot of those folks are siblings or children of people who served in the military.
Eighty percent of our military lives in five states: North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Texas and California.
They say: Where do our military members come from? They come from the South and the Mountain West. I came up here for an eye appointment the other day, and my doctor asked me what I did. I told him I was down at the base. He has two sons and a daughter all serving in the Army. Thats a rarity nowadays.
My wife took the car in to the Acura dealer. Two of the guys working on the car talked about how they have brothers and sisters in the service currently serving overseas. Again, a rarity, but because of where you live and where we work and live.
That article talked about how I benefit, how the airmen Im with benefit from thank-yous from a nation. My father, who served 35 years, went to war in Vietnam, didnt benefit. But I also live with a community and this is the premise the article made that is more and more detached from that serving sector of the nation.
And they know that theres a base out there, but they dont know what goes on there and argue that some dont even care. And that theyre very grateful, not so much for what is done, but because they dont have to do it.
Its a fairly dark article. But it triggered the mindset of: We need to get out there and communicate what we do and why we do it, because were all taxpayers here. We all support that system, and its integral to, I think, our national defense.
THE BASES HISTORY
Mountain Home Air Force Base [was] built in 1942 as a B-24 training base. It closed like a lot of World War II bases when the war went away. It opened back up in 1953 as a strategic air command. We drilled missile silo holes.
In 1966, we went away from strategic air command and went to small aircraft. Tactical air command.
About 1972, the 366th Fighter Wing came back from Vietnam.
In the 1990s, Gen. Burwick Pete set up the composite wing, where Mountain Home Air Force Base had F-15Cs, which are air-to-air fighters; F-15Es, strike eagles known for air-to-air and air-to-ground; F-16s with a dual-role mission; the tankers, the KC-135s, they would need to get to the fight; the B-1 bombers to bring the heavy munitions to the fight, [and] the air-control squadron to control the whole fight.
In the post-9/11 era, we took those functions and we moved them to [other] bases. Slowly, things were taken away.
Youll hear us called the Mountain Home Gunfighters. That nickname came from Danang Air Force Base in Vietnam, when the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at the time was getting defeated by the MIGs [Soviet-made fighter jets] in the Vietnam War. They would get into dogfights with the MIGs, and they were unable to shoot the MIGs down. A famous man at the time, Colonel Booth, decided to put a gun on the bottom of the F-4. [In] the next four to six weeks, they killed five MIGs in air-to-air combat. And the legend grew, and they became known as the Gunfighters.
WHAT SHORT TELLS AIRMEN
Ride hard, shoot straight, and always speak the truth. I meet with every first-time airman that comes to Mountain Home Air Force Base, and I talk about what this means to me.
Ride hard is to work hard and play hard. I need your best every day. When I give you time off, I need you to go play hard, I need you to relax, because Im going to work you hard the next day. The things that we ask of this generation are amazing. What I ask those 18- to 24-year-olds that make the heart of the U.S. military is amazing.
And the fact that we dont have a U.S. military in order to provide you a retirement check. We dont have a U.S. military in order to provide you with quality of life as an airman. We have a U.S. military to defend our shores, to fight our nations battles on our enemys territory, to defend our country at all costs.
That Time article talked about how the military tries to put itself above society, because they say its so important to have integrity, service for self, and excellence in all we do. I think were a reflection of our society, but were a reflection of the best part of our society. Its imperative to what we do.
EVERYTHING WERE BASED ON IS TRUST.
When I have a 22-year-old person fixing a $54 million aircraft at 2 in the morning when its raining, and 35 miles per hour winds like it was last night, its 20 degrees out there, I need him to do the tech order precisely. I cant have him take a shortcut, or we will kill two people the next morning at 9 a.m. upon take-off. Thats the trust I give them. Thats the integrity I require from them.
A GOOD FLYING RANGE
Recently, after seven years of hard work, we expanded the range over 122,000 [additional] acres. Last year alone, we had 2,000 visitors from 112 different units flying 22 different aircraft.
When were not using this air space, we give it back to Salt Lake City, so when you fly from Salt Lake City to Seattle now, your flight will be shorter and itll save money on gas.
FLYING TO THE MIDEAST AND AFGHANISTAN
I send airmen out to the United Arab Emirates, and they get very frustrated because theyre not dropping bombs on bad guys in Afghanistan. The maintainers get frustrated when all the weapons come back on the aircraft. Its not popular to use air power in Mr. Karzais government right now. The collateral damage is too expensive. We do it when it has to be done, but its not preferred.
But I tell those guys that right now, every time they fly, the folks north of the Gulf of Iran or the Persian Gulf, they notice. Every day they fly with the F-22s that are there, the F-15Cs that are there, the KC-135s that are there, they understand the combat capability that lies 60 miles to the south. They provide a strategic deterrent six months at a time.
Ive got medics in Honduras who are working on a counter-narcotic mission, taking care of people in hospitals. Weve got medics training people in Afghanistan.
Post-2014, the operations tempo will continue. The stack of things were supposed to go do, that are unfilled, will just fill in where those Afghanistan missions were before.
Ive got a wife and three daughters. Pride and joy of my life. Its my wifes birthday today. My daughter is a senior in high school in Mountain Home, her fourth high school in four years. I have a freshman and a fifth-grader. Tough. Tougher than I thought.
When I left Valdosta in January of last year, the [word] came out that Your greatest dream to be wing commander has come true. Theres nothing like telling your wife and your kids that your dream came true and then they leave the room crying, because youre uplifting them from whats important to them and moving them again.
My kids are happy were going to be here for two years.
AVIATORS WHO LIVE IN BOISE
Fifteen to 17 percent of my people live in Boise. Ive got about 800 homes; Ive got about 500 dorm rooms on base. The rest live in Mountain Home, or they live up here in Boise and commute.
THE ROLE OF CIVILIANS
Ive got civilians that are critical to my mission that have been there for years. Theyre the cohesive continuity when we rotate people in every two to three years.
I have contractors that I cant do without, that watch my front gate, that work in my urgent-care center and my hospital.
THE BASES ECONOMIC IMPACT
We think we provide almost a billion dollars in economic impact. That stars coming from the Boise State University Department of Economics. So Im trying to gain some credibility there by going to the home team.
My airmen, my families, they go to Mountain Home, they go to Boise to recreate. Thats where we spend our money.
I want to help you do more business with the base if that should be your choice. Id like to build that partnership where we can help you, where you can give back to my airmen when they need something.